Because it just keeps snowing, and if this didn’t melt away on it’s own we’d be up to our eyebrows in about a week.

Seriously, I swept a good four inches off my car this morning. About 10 inches yesterday morning. And now it’s snowing again, big fat flakes that’ll have me sweeping off my car before I drive it home tonight.

On Saturday, I went skiing with another ALT (L) and a Aiko, Japanese friend from cooking class and several of her coworkers. L and I had figured we would go someplace close by, but the Japanese people had A Plan that involved driving over to Gifu, a neighboring prefecture and about an hour and a half away. They drove though, so I didn’t really care. (We did have to get up to leave by 7am though.)

I had all these plans, where I was going to wake up and make myself a real breakfast, and then that didn’t happen. I woke up at 6:50 when Aiko sent me a text saying “I’m coming to pick you up now!” and of course I freaked out and threw on some clothing and was out the door.

It took a long time to actually make things happen. (Everything in Japan seems to take a long time.) I guess maybe part of it was that these other people were all friends, so sometimes they would stand around and chat – we rearranged ourselves in cars at one point, so that fewer cars were driving, and that seemed to take … a while.

At the mountain, I rented skis and also a snow suit – I really just wanted pants but they came as a set. This turned out to be very smart: it was cold on the mountain, and I really needed the two layers of pants. Also, I ended up falling down a couple times – and also deliberately sitting a couple times – and my jeans would have been soaking wet and miserable on the long drive home.

So it turns out that L can’t really ski. She’d only been one other time, hadn’t had any lessons, and the person who took her before had a sort of tunnel vision about the difficulty of skiing (that apparently I sort of share) that led him to take her right up to the top of the mountain without any sort of preparation.

By tunnel vision, I mean, I forget that when I was five I had actual lessons and moderate amounts of practice at skiing, and that even though now I am shit at it and haven’t gone in years, I know how to Mostly Not Fall, and Turn, and Stop Moving. I forget that skiing is sort of like riding a bike both in that you never really forget how and also that it is not remotely instinctive.

Which is to say, the first run of the (actually really long and nice) bunny hill had me zoooming down the slopes and then wondering where my friend was, while L was falling all over the hill because she was freaked out about the speed. Fortunately, Aiko had stuck with her – had also taught L how to ride the lift, which I meant to do except that then I got separated. (L was very timid about it at first, even just the lift. But that changed as she got more confident.)

L had this .. “technique” where she would ski across the slope, realize she was going too fast or that she had reached the edge, and would deliberately fall. Then she would lift her skis up so they were pointing the opposite direction, and ski to the other edge…. where she would fall again. Deliberately. And flop her skis over.

She didn’t like the speed she got when turning, or something – because you have to point a little more downhill, and you go a little faster, and she felt totally out of control. But Aiko was pretty good at coaching her, and I would pester her not to deliberately fall down because that’s just REALLY EXHAUSTING even though she wasn’t going fast enough for it to hurt much (especially because it was usually deliberate). I stuck it out with her on the bunny slope all morning, though after a few runs we sent Aiko off to the rest of the mountain because frankly, Aiko is a lot better than either of us. (She also is a snowboarder – this particular mountain was mostly boarders. Which was good, really – I think boarding runs are generally less steep than skiing runs, unless you’re talking about half-pipes.)

After lunch, I left L on the bunny slope alone, and went halfway up the mountain with the rest of them. I requested we pick the easier section.

So, I should mention here: this was a real mountain. I mean, it wasn’t crazy difficult or anything, but I don’t think I’ve been skiing on a proper mountain since I was five, if then. (I’m basing this on other people’s distain for the skiing available in Michigan.) And going down the intermediate slope wasn’t exactly too hard, I mean, I made it down. But it was long. It was really long. I think one run took me half an hour, though we stopped occasionally. Everybody did, it was like “Hey, instead of moguls (this cannot possibly be the proper spelling) we’re going to scatter people around as hazards! DON’T HIT THEM.” (Mostly I managed to stop on the edges, but other people just plopped down in the center.) I fell three or four times going pretty fast, which hurt – it’s been so long since I’d been skiing, I forgot how the skis catch in the snow and sort of wrench your legs about from the hip socket. Not hard enough to hurt myself, or even to lose a ski (actually, I may have lost a ski once, I forget now) but enough to give you a jolt and make (me, at least) just a little nervous when I start again.

I realized about 30 seconds into it that L had been completely smart to stay where she was – I’d tried to pester her into trying coming up with us, but she would have fallen a lot. And painfully.

So anyway, I made it down, but I was exhausted: from the long run, from the falling, from the skiing before lunch where I was trying hard to go slowly to stick with L. (Going slowly actually seems harder than going fast, you’re fighting physics the whole way.) I declined to go back up the mountain and rejoined L on the bunny slope – and let me clarify, here, the bunny slope was not a rope lift type, it had a proper chair lift and was a lot longer than any other bunny slope I’ve ever seen. It was more like an easy, green circle slope than a bunny slope, but it did have some tiny children getting lessons on it. (Plus the requisite lounging skiers/boarders just chillin’ in the middle of the slope, both of which added a measure of hazard as we were forced to avoid hitting them.)

By the end of the day, L was doing pretty well – she managed to get down the easy slope without falling once, even on the steeper start which she found very nerve-wracking.

We didn’t stay too long in the afternoon – we left about 2:30. The others went to an onsen, but L, Aiko and I drove home.

I ended up taking a bath in my tiny half-tub, which was nice except for how my knees always hover up around my chin when I do that. Anyway, it was a lot of fun, and if I go again (I’d like to, but it’s a little expensive, between the skis and the pants and the lift ticket it ran me about $100) I’ll be a little more adventurous about going on the harder slopes. (Though it would be good to have a Japanese person with me again, as there were two options half way up the mountain and I had no idea which was easier.)

I’m answering questions today for the yearbook at one of my schools. I did this before break at the other school – they’re simple questions, like favorite food, or what would I do with a month’s vacation.

It’s funny actually. Some of it is clearly supposed to be wish fulfillment. Like, OMG, nobody gets a month’s vacation, you only ever get a few days! What on earth would you do if you had all that time??!?

To which I respond: Um. I had that, this summer. So, okay, more of the same? More travelling, yes!

At this school, they’ve also asked what I like about the students, and what my favorite lunch is, and finally: if I was a student again for one day, what would I do?

Which I guess is another one of those wish fulfillment things: as a student I wouldn’t have to worry about money, or work along hours, or cook for myself, or do anything serious (especially if it was only for one day, and I didn’t have to think about The Future). BUT. Um. That is basically my life anyway. Like, I just don’t worry about money. I’m not a profligate spender or anything, but if I really want something I go ahead and buy it. I never worry about money for food or paying the bills. I don’t have to cook for anybody but me – and if I don’t want to cook for me, I can go out to eat. I’ve just come off a long vacation where I didn’t work at all, so even the absence of work isn’t that much of a treat: sometimes it seems like I hardly work at all for this job. (Case in point: I can write this post while at school, though I won’t be posting until later.)

There is absolutely nothing I want to go back to about junior high, with the possible exception of seeing Liverpool again. But I’d really rather do that as an adult.

So much for the dream of childhood. I guess I’ve got everything I need right now.

Apple computers come with several prepackaged desktop images – one of the images bundled with Leopard is of Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion Temple.

It’s in Kyoto. I’ve been there. (And it’s lovely. Also shiny.)

Yeah, I’m ringing this one in alone. On the other hand, I’m watching CRAZY JAPAN TV. Their version of a New Years Countdown involves a lot of bell ringing (giant bells that are rung with LOGS, that is) and praying, and people RUSHING THE TEMPLE like it is Wal-mart on Black Friday to get their First Prayer of the Year over ASAP.

There was also this crazy concert, with like, potential drag queens and somebody in a TOTALLY BLINGED OUT jacket and vest and a lady in a ballgown that would have been lovely except for how it was covered in a COW PATTERN (because it’s the year of the COW, see?).

I got back from Osaka today. I left a little early because, well, almost everything was closed for the holiday. Except for the aquarium, but I did that later. (More on that in a moment.) Anyway, shops were open but there’s only so much shopping I can do in Japan before I start to feel like I am OBESE because none of the stuff here is made for people with, say, thighs that actually touch when your heels are together. (YES. I KNOW. They are SO THIN here that they can put their heels together and there is still SPACE between their legs. WHAT IS THAT RIDICULOUS FLUKE OF GENETICS.)

Anyway, I came back to Toyama, and the train was so crowded I actually had to stand most of the time. (Also, when it was clearing out and all the standing people were grabbing seats, I was a little slow because I had wedged myself into this corner and then somebody blocked my escape route.

I am super pissed at myself about the train, actually. I bought one thing in Osaka that was not food, and I left it in my seat. Grar. I talked to the station people, and I wasn’t on a regular train I was on a specific express train, so they might be able to find it for me. I knew which car I was in, but not which seat, and the bag is a souvenir bag from the aquarium, so it’s sortof distinctive. I mean, it’s got fish all over it. They were supposed to give me a call, but I never got one. I’m going back to the station on Saturday, the 2nd, when people will (mostly) be back at work, to ask about it. (It’s not super valuable, but if I can get it back I would like to.)

Anyway, so, the trip. The first day I went to the Umeda Sky Building – a sort of double skyscraper with a bridge across the top that serves as an observation deck. It’s very Modern, and the deck makes it look a bit like an enormously tall Arc de Triomphe. I thought it was kind of cool, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of people hated it as much as Parisians have hated the Eiffel for ages. The view from the top was totally awesome, and you could even go on the roof and stand in the open air. It was actually a lot less windy than I thought it would be. There was zero chance of falling off though – I mean, you would have to be really working at it to get to the edge, and there were guards around to stop people. Absolutely nobody was going to fall off by accident.

Underneath was a sort of recreated old fashioned street, except that it had nothing but restaurants. I thought there would also be shopping, but no. Just food.

The next day, the 30th, I went to the aquarium I mentioned earlier. First, I rode the Giant Ferris Wheel. It was actually tremendously high, about 100 meters. (The carriages were enclosed, of course.) Again, the views were awesome, though it wasn’t as clear on Tuesday, so I couldn’t see as far. As for the aquarium itself…

Okay, so my standards are pretty high after SeaWorld, which isn’t technically an aquarium but nonetheless informs my idea of what any place containing animals should be.

The first level or so of the aquarium were a little meh – I mean, fish, okay, awesome. Colorful fish, even better. BIG fish, always fun. They had some otters, but the otters mostly looked a little like they would really prefer the screaming children to leave. The sea lions or possibly seals were swimming around, but somehow not shown off to their best advantage – the same with the dolphins. However, the dolphins were and entirely different species, not the bottle-nose at all. The otters at one point decided that they were FILTHY FILTHY and HAD TO SCRUB. NOW. which was pretty funny. The penguins were cool, but actually looked as though it was too hot in their area – they were all standing around with their wings spread and under the fall of snow instead of actually moving at all.

But the real excitement happened when I got to the main tank, because the main tank featured two GODDAMN HUGE whale sharks. Whale sharks are not like great whites at all, they’re much flatter and less pointy and they have spots. Also their mouths are not filled with freaky sharp teeth but instead greatly resemble that popular shark-styled dustbuster.

So there were two whale sharks, that were maybe as much as 10 meters long? Whatever, they were Damn Big. Then there were manta rays. Now, I love rays in general, but this was my favorite kind – black on top, white on bottom, with the elongated pointy fins instead of the blunted, more circular shape. These ones were big enough to ride. : DDD There were also some little hammer heads, and some big fish, and some little fish – enough of each kind that they made swirling schools in the big tank.

There was also a littler tank with something called “sunfish” that were sort of bizarre – they were quite large, but with no apparent side fins, only two big ones on top and bottom. The tail fin was very abrupt. In the tank with the sunfish were four large octopi. One was tucked grumpily in the corner. One was hiding in some rocks, all THIS IS NOT THE OCTOPUS YOU ARE LOOKING FOR and doing his best to blend with the rocks. (He wasn’t exactly up to Obi Wan standards though, he was … quite visible.) The third was just hanging out on the glass – like he swam up and stuck himself to it and said Hey, this looks like a nice place to just hang.

The fourth octopus was the best though. All the Japanese people were in general exited about them. The scene was sort of as follows:

tiny Japanese children: TAKO. TAKO. TAKOTAKOTAKO.
adults: Ooo. Nice.
me: Hi, Lunch. You look tasty.
octopus 4: HELLO. LETS HUG.

Octopus 4 was totally great all the time, wandering happily over the tank, pressed up to the plexiglass so we could see his gripping suckers and spreading himself out as wide as he could go. He completely stole the scene from the sunfish, which were the supposed star of that tank.

After the octopi there were some giant spider crabs. The thing I did not know about giant spider crabs is that apparently they do not scuttle, they mince. I would not have thought that their legs were good for walking, as they each seem to end in a deadly looking spike but they seem to manage. The crabs were basically the end, except for the jellyfish. They were cool, but not exactly… lively.

And now, it’s definitely time for some sleep. You all have some time to kill before that ball drops in NY, but here’s its been 2009 for a couple hours, and I should do something productive tomorrow. (LIKE BAKE, MAYBE. : D )

And about time! I feel like I’ve been talking about this book forever, and I swear I’m almost done, except to say that the final essay, printed originally in The Atlantic, had awesome formatting – it didn’t have footnotes, it had arrows pointing to outlined boxes.

Now, I confess, it was initially kind of confusing, and there is really no reason for it whatsoever except that some of his asides were kind of long, and primarily editorial rather than clarifying, but it was certainly different and fun.

I finished it this morning, on my train ride to Osaka – which was a bit delayed, actually, as I couldn’t seem to shift my lazy ass out of bed before 8am, and then I was moving at a pace which was awfully slothlike and I ended up missing the 8:50 train by about 10 minutes. (This is very standard for me and trains, to the point where sometimes I just don’t bother to look up the train times at all and trust that I’ll make it to my destinatio sooner or later.)

Which, sure enough, I did! I had all these lofty plans where I would take the 8:50 train out of Kosugi at the latest, which would get me to Osaka by 11am again, at the latest, but all that got thrown out of whack and I ended up rolling into town around 1pm.

Osaka is a lot warmer than I anticipated, actually, to the point where I am almost comically overdressed. I came with an undershirt and a shirt and a light sweater and my coat, with a scarf and a thick hat, and an additional oversized sweater tied to the strap of my backpack by its arms. No sooner did I exit Osaka Station, though, but I realized that even the coat was overkill, so I wandered around this afternoon carrying two (small!) bags and with an extra sweater, a scarf, and a coat hanging off my person. I’ll be leaving some of that here tomorrow.

I got sort of ridiculously lost on my way to the hostel, but with the help of some ladies from Malasia who were wandering around with giant suitcases (and who I rightfully guessed were on their way to the same hostel) I managed to find my way here.

For dinner, I found a nice, relaxing bar – American, but I have been craving burgers, and not the kind that come from McD’s. So I had a burger, and some wine (cheap drinks before 9pm!), and because my wine came first and I did not eat lunch today, there was a short period wherein I was forcibly reminded that relatively small people and/or cheap drunks should probably not drink on empty stomachs.

But then food came, so it all worked out without any problems.

It’s always a little bizarre to read about my hometown. Bloomington, Illinois has very little to distinguish it from anyplace else in the Midwest except, as Wallace points out, relative prosperity. Between them Bloomington and Normal combine to have about 100K citizens, but their separate counts are about 60K-40K – and that smaller number is about the speed of B-N, culturally speaking. Nobody outside the area knows much about it, except in terms of a modest university (which, hilariously, I saw a hat promoting here in Japan, part of the “US College” line. I almost bought it, actually, but then didn’t because it was hideously ugly).

The point is, I don’t hear about it much, and for very good reason. But in one of the essays in Consider the Lobster, Wallace describes both his reaction and the town’s reaction to September 11, which he dubs quite simply the Horror. Wallace isn’t from Bloomington, and it’s obvious in every word, but his outsider view of my hometown during this particularly memorable moment is both moving and fascinating.

There were many things, as a mostly-oblivious 16 year old, that I didn’t notice – my family wasn’t connected in the community much, so I didn’t witness many of the community interactions in the wake, or did so only as a disinterested outsider. I was also surrounded by only fellow teens and teachers. The teachers I was conditioned to mostly ignore outside of specific class period circumstances. (Even now, as a teacher, I remember the oddity of seeing my own teachers outside the classroom and the bizarre feeling that surely they all just slept in the basement or closet, pulled out only when the students returned.) The teens were … I’m not sure how to describe it here. We knew what was happening – everybody knew, we were dismissed from class and sat around watching the news all day – but we maybe didn’t fully grasp the significance or the wider implications. Wallace describes a young man of his acquaintance who continually remarked that it seemed “like a movie;” in retrospect I felt a similar sense of unreality, combined with what I think may have been a failure to really grasp the concept of mortality.

At any rate, many other articles dealing with the precise moment of this Horror haven’t really resonated with me, but Wallace’s article really really did.

So I’m borrowing my friend’s oven while she’s away in Korea, which is generally awesome. The very first night I made baked miso chicken and roasted potatoes. It took a while, because there is only one rack so I could only do one thing at a time, but they were DELICIOUS.

But today I made chocolate chip cookies, and they were a little trickier. For one thing, there isn’t quite enough chocolate – Japan just doesn’t have big bags of Tollhouse, and some of their chocolate here isn’t exactly delicious, so I bought little bites of bittersweet and chopped them up to make my own chunks. For another, the stove doesn’t do the whole “preheat” thing, and also doesn’t retain heat that well. So I couldn’t keep it at a steady 375 – especially because, sort of like a microwave, every time I opened it it would turn off. (And immediately start shedding heat.)

The first batch got cooked waaay too long, and also I sort of got distracted watching The Incredibles, and one thing led to another and they sort of turned into lumps of charcoal. (By “batch” here I obviously mean “the first set of cookies I dropped on the sheet” which was only about 6. When I say the oven is small? I mean it is small.)

The second batch went a lot better, and also was 8 cookies instead of six, because I decided that would work. The stove doesn’t cook very evenly though, and more heat comes through the bottom than from the top, so the edges of the cookies and the bottoms are crispier than the center top which is still a pal yellow. (Also, possibly my measuring cup is off or possibly the amount of butter I added was a little much because they are more crispy than chewy even with the slight undercooked-ness in parts, and the baking powder I substituted for soda didn’t … quite make them rise as much as I hoped.)

Which is a longwinded way of saying that I have a bunch of cookies I wouldn’t mind sharing with other people, and nobody to share them with, and also that I clearly have more baking to do so I can get this RIGHT. Yay!

My reading habits here in Japan are sort of … eclectic. More so, perhaps, than in the US – there, I can wander to the library and find any of thousands of books which might be to my taste, and know that frankly, I could read all day every day for months and not run out of things to read.

Obviously, this is not the case in Japan. The number of English Language books available is highly limited, and without the ability to read Japanese I am forced to Suck It Up and Take What I Can Get.

Which results in my reading things I might not otherwise have bothered to try, like The Secret Life of Bees, (engaging!) or parts of Eats, Shoots and Leaves. (Less so.)

At the moment, I’m reading a book of essays by David Foster Wallace – an author I always meant to try, if for no other reason than I appreciate a good title and I think Infinite Jest is an excellent title. However, I am not reading IJ. No, in a nod to my childhood, I am reading Consider the Lobster (Hi dad!) and it is, frankly, hilarious. I’m only a few essays in, but he is currently making me genuinely interested in the history of and battles concerning language usage as they pertain to authoritative sources like dictionaries and usage guides.

Which is sort of a long way of saying, Wallace is pretty entertaining, even though I probably wouldn’t have started this if I weren’t bereft of English text, and I will have to investigate his novels when I get home.

…as long as you’re imagining, make it witty too, yeah?